Sunday, January 16, 2022

Hellroaring Basin improvements highlight new season on Big Mountain

Whitefish Pilot | December 1, 2021 1:00 AM

As Whitefish Mountain Resort prepares to open for the winter season next week, resort officials are looking forward to seeing the improvements to Hellroaring Basin in action when skiers and snowboarders hit the slopes.

Opening day for the resort is planned for Tuesday, Dec. 7 and recent snowfall has kept that on track for the time being. As of Friday the resort had recorded about 26 inches of snow since the beginning of November and has a settled base at the summit of 20 inches with approximately 10 inches at the bottom of Chair 7 on the backside of the mountain. However, WMR spokesperson Chad Sokol said forecasted warm temperatures might make additional snowmaking challenging this week.

“It looks like we're getting some unfortunate warm weather this week, but we should get back to making snow over the weekend,” he told the Pilot on Monday. “Folks should keep an eye on our website and social media, just in case we have to postpone opening day.”

Prior to the record high temperatures over the weekend, the resort was moving snowmaking efforts around the mountain as conditions permitted, but mainly focused on the higher elevations. Kalispell reached 59 degrees on Sunday afternoon, surpassing the daily record of 51 set in 1899, according to the National Weather Service.

Resort officials said the recorded snowfall was right where it needed to be at just over a week before the winter season is set to begin.

“We'd always love to see more snow before opening day, but we actually think we're doing better than average for this point of the season…” Sokol said. “With a La Niña weather pattern in the forecast, all signs point to a great season ahead.”

Over the summer the resort relocated Chair 8 so that the bottom terminal is now at Grand Junction and the top is near the intersection of the ski runs Toni Matt and Big Ravine. By doing this it cuts off the long outrun at the end of Hell Fire which needed a generous amount of snow in order to open each season, therefore relocating the lift will move up the opening date of Hellroaring Basin. The resort hopes to open the lift on Saturday, Dec. 11 if conditions allow.

Previously at the top of Chair 8 there were no clear trails back into the basin which meant riders would have to take a run down the front side and back up to the summit to get back into the area.

“If you recall how the lift was previously situated in the Hellroaring Basin, it wasn’t exactly living up to its potential…” the resort said in a statement. “We think this new configuration will improve overall mountain traffic flow. And it will enable us to open the Hellroaring Basin earlier in the season.”

The lift ride now lasts about 7 minutes and covers 1,082 vertical feet, according to the resort.

With the relocation of the lift, the resort also formed two new runs — Wing and a Prayer, an expert run, and Short but Sweet, an intermediate route.

The Hellroaring Basin project actually started in 2020 when they began clearing six new runs, the two opening this year as well as Pat’s Ride, Lacy Lane, Chet’s Stache and RadJack which debuted last season.

Another huge project the resort is just beginning work on is the installation of a high-speed six-person chairlift that will replace Chair 4 called the Snow Ghost Express. The new lift will take skiers from the Base Lodge area to the top of Inspiration Ridge in less than 7 minutes. It’s the first lift at WMR that will stretch from the Base Lodge area to the upper elevations of the mountain and the first six-person lift to be installed at Whitefish.

“The new Chair 4 will offer a direct flight to the upper terrain without that layover, and help alleviate traffic on those other lifts by providing an alternative,” the resort statement reads.

This summer groundwork for the new lift began as workers moved dirt to the area to modify the terrain, the beginning stages of the installation which will happen next summer with an anticipated opening date for the 2022-23 ski season.

This ski season will also look a little different at the resort in terms of COVID-19 protocols. Last year several procedures were enacted to prevent the spread of the virus including requiring face coverings in lift lines and indoor settings.

Now the resort is encouraging all guests to wear face coverings in crowded settings where social distancing cannot be maintained but is not requiring it. Masks will only be required when guests are involved in a medical response or transport situation where they are in close contact with ski patrollers.

There are also no longer Covid-related occupancy limits or hosted seating in food and beverage facilities managed by the resort and singles lines will once again be available at chairlifts.

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